Listening to Bloc Party’s second album is like listening to the sound of being just barely too cool for school.
It’s a golden age that can happen at any time: the briefest window when one realizes whatever rat-race one happens to be engaged in is an illusion that won’t have any lasting impact on the course of one’s life and it’s possible to breeze by armed with half-baked ambition and the knowledge that it doesn’t matter what people think – until the next crushing societal pressure takes hold of one’s psyche, and the window closes.
Bloc Party seems to earnestly believe that overwrought lyrical stances and wacky guitar solos can make a difference in someone’s life. At “A Weekend in the City’s” finest moments, it’s hard to argue with them.
Take, for example, the impeccably structured and deftly executed album opener, “Song for Clay (Disappear Here).” Yes, the fact that the first song title contains a parenthetical phrase is a tip-off to what type of post-prog nerdery awaits the listener. It opens with front man Kele Okereke quavering beautifully about “trying to be heroic in an age of modernity” over some wispy piano and strings, then unfurls to an admirably compressed multipart epic that serves as a sketch of the best the album has to offer. The track also sets a precedent for a curious lyrical pattern of dropping references to specific decades (the eighties) and monsters (vampires). Indeed, throughout there is a certain thematic cohesion that is to be appreciated, involving either real or imagined nostalgia for decades or eras past and weariness of mass media.
Through their high-school level enthusiasm and high-mindedness, Bloc Party makes even these most pedestrian of fixations seem triumphant when they’re on. Super-glossy guitars, an impeccably recorded rhythm section and a general sense of “more-is-more” production work to the group’s advantage, inasmuch as they, perhaps more than any other band in their cohort, use the studio as a means to better convey their music.
However, the other side of trying hard in rock music is that when a band falls flat, there’s nowhere to hide. When the music fails to inject the songs with enough nervous, hormonal bluster, the songs stretch and fade into a tiresome slog. See “Uniform” for a classic example of this, where Okereke laments what he perceives as a homogenization of youth counterculture. This could serve as a perfectly legitimate subject for a song – interesting, even – but they just handle it so disastrously straight. The song opens with the lines, “There was a sense of disappointment/when we left the mall” and then launches in to a crotchety-yet-serious condemnation of “commerce dressed up as rebellion.” Why, Bloc Party, did you go to the mall in the first place? And if the experience really did instill disappointment, that means there was some expectation that the plurality of youth subculture present at said shopping center was going to inspire some sense of hope and excitement, and that’s just not a headspace any thinking person should occupy. This song needed to be more ironic.
Or maybe it didn’t. Everybody needs a first dose of disillusionment, and this type of uber-earnest quasi-emo ballad, which makes up the majority of “A Weekend in the City,” could be just what the cultural pharmacist ordered for a new breed of slightly less experienced indie audience.